I shared this story last year with the nice people at Jane Porter's blog, and I wanted to give you guys a glimpse of some of the strange, wonderful formative experiences that warped my view of the world.
And so, I give you, The Flaming Stuffing Story.
My late grandmother, Marjorie, was one of those Ivory soap and oatmeal cookie grandmas. She had an eye for flashy accessories and always dressed to the nines. She raised four of the biggest smartasses to ever tread the Earth’s surface – my mother, Judy, and my uncles, Dan, Pat, and Ned.
When I was in high school, the family was thrown into a panic when Grandma’s doctors announced that she had late-stage cancer. She wasn’t expected to live for more than a few months.* Determined to create some happy family memories in her remaining time, we gathered all of the Thompson uncles, various aunts and cousins in the same room for the first time in about 10 years. Did I mention that this room was in our house?
My Mom was struggling to keep our house’s foundation from giving way and cook a Thanksgiving meal for a crowd that seemed to exponentially expand. Every time someone ate a sausage ball, two more people seemed to show up. Used to preparing these gargantuan holiday meals herself, Grandma was struggling with the idea that she was not in charge of Loaves and Fishes. She kept sneaking in and out of the kitchen to offer Mom helpful advice.
Mom asked the uncles to distract her, but apparently, Grandma was wilier than any of us gave her credit for. When Mom took the dressing out of the oven and set it on the stove, she turned her back to direct my sister and me in the peeling a metric ton tons of potatoes. Behind her, Grandma had ambled into the kitchen. A
ccording to family lore, Grandma put a pot on the stove for some planned sweet potato and marshmallow concoction and turned on the wrong burner — the one under the container of dressing. Distracted by the calls of my legion of cousins, Grandma shuffled silently out of the kitchen like a ninja in StrideRite shoes, forgetting about the burner.
Mom noticed the smoke about 10 minutes later.
Shrieking, Mom grabbed two oven mitts and whisked the smoldering side dish from the stove. In an impressive “physics in everyday life” lesson, cool air hit the hot glass, and the casserole dish exploded. Mom was left with two casserole dish ends in her hands and a lump of perfectly rectangular, molten dressing burning a 9×13 hole through her linoleum.
The rest of the brood came running as Mom fell to her knees and let loose a string of expletives that made an episode of The Sopranos sound like Sesame Street. This was the moment my future husband, David, who was spending his first holiday with my family, chose to come through the front door. If he had run away, leaving a David-shaped hole in the wall, I wouldn’t have blamed him.
Grandma just patted my mom on the head and said, “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll pick the glass out, and it will be just fine.”
True to Thompson, “I’ll do it when I’m good and ready” form, Grandma went on to live until May 1996. We had a precious few more holidays with her, and no holiday moment since has ever inspired the sheer horror and hilarity as The Exploding Dressing Incident. Though it was tense, loud and made the house smell like burning tires, it’s a story that always comes up when we’re reminiscing about Grandma.
You don’t know what you’re missing with your family members until they’re gone. While we’re caught up in little things like which relatives are chronic re-gifters and how to keep the “highly strung” cousins out of the egg nog, we miss out on some of life’s strangest, sweetest moments. If we all just take a deep breath and pick the glass out of the dressing, we’ll be fine.
For the record, we didn’t eat the glassy-riddled dressing. My dad and my aunt searched every grocery and gas station until they found the last box of stovetop in western Kentucky.